REVIEW: Unbidden Melody by Mary Burchell
Mary loved music, and was thrilled to be working as secretary to a famous impressario — but it was another matter when she found herself becoming involved with one of his clients, the celebrated singer, Nicholas Brenner.
She told herself firmly that she could never really belong in Nicholas’s world and that to fall in love with him could only bring her heartbreak. But how could she stop herself?
I supposed it’s to be expected that by book seven of the Warrender Saga, some things might seem a tad familiar. I’m getting slightly tired of the shy, retiring heroine who sinks back into her shell around the hero’s glamorous music world friends. But perhaps this is what Burchell saw and knew to be helpful to the longevity in the relationships she encountered in the operatic world; the high strung performers need(ed) someone down to earth and totally supportive and to remind them of the normality the rest of the world inhabits. They need moments of simplicity away from the glitz and false glamor. I had fun reading Burchell’s telling comments, made through Torelli and Deane, about the personality of tenors.
There are shades of “Broken Wing” in new secretary Mary who has only a nice voice instead of one with which she could have had ambitions. She steps into a job with top agent Dermot Deane and gets succinct advise from his outgoing secretary to become indispensable and ready for any challenge thrown her way. Oh, and be able to work miracles.
Dermot Deane is on the case of finding a fill-in Don Jose for an already scheduled run of performances of “Carmen”and muses on a possible candidate’s previous turn as “the Idiot to end all Idiots” in “Boris.” Now how’s that for a rec! Mary thrills to be at the center of a “gorgeous operatic crisis” as the needed tenor is located, wooed, and lured back into action. Luckily Mary handles fetching Nicholas Brenner well “for a newcomer” and manages to engage his attention in a discussion of operatic records – re-pressings v originals – and singers of the past. I can almost hear Burchell and her sister in real life in the operatic queues for tickets. Soon Mary finds herself doing hand-holding duties which apparently were previously managed by Nick’s now deceased wife. Hmmmm.
Then an old love who appears to have brushed Mary aside for another reappears in her life having been summarily tossed aside himself. Mary’s mother is certainly pleased that Mary wasn’t able to drop everything to work Barry back into her life on such short notice. Mary will have to wait and see what Barry’s true intentions are this time.
The opera of the book is “Carmen” with sweet Anthea Warrender singing Micaela while a sensuous Canadian Suzanne Thomas (replaying her tricks from “The Curtain Rises”) lives up to Carmen’s wiles and provocative appeal. Since Nicholas is playing Jose who will be caught in Carmen’s spell, Mary wonders if their acting onstage is superb or real. Then Mary learns Something Important about Nicholas Brenner and his dead wife which I kinda saw coming. It does tie in with his role as Jose who killed the woman he loved until Mary coolly throws cold water on his theatrical nonsense which rather abashes him. I think he doesn’t really know how to take her practical nature as compared to his dead wife’s wild provocation and rows. So it’s British common sense vs melancholy Slav – due to his Russian grandmother.
At times he turns into a temperamental tenor but rather that than a boring baritone. He and Mary have already developed a bit of a flirting relationship – or at least he has the confidence to flirt with her while she’s still a bit flustered by him. So Nicholas is enjoying making Barry a bit jealous while he sparks Mary into gay vivacity but – ominous warning music – is this going to become like the tempestuous relationship he suffered from with his wife? Two men are courting Mary but is it just an alpha male contest or are they genuinely interested in her?
Nicholas is genuinely courteous to Mary’s gallery friends as any great star should be. He knows the importance of the public. Nicholas’s offhand comments to Mary after she apologizes shows 1) he already knows her personality and 2) he likes her! Then – ooooh, that malicious mezzo sticks her snooty nose into the situation and the delicious soap bubble of their friendship is popped. Or so Mary thinks. What Mary seems to be remaining blissfully unaware of is the fact that Barry has imperceptibly shifted out of center of her focus and that Nicholas has taken his place.
So here we get a hero who is quickly and admits openly to being in love with our heroine. Unlike “Under the Stars of Paris” where I guessed Florian was falling for Anthea or “Curtain” where I was sure Julian was falling for Nicola but it wasn’t mentioned, here we are sure. Nicholas fesses up at the halfway point. Now where will our conflict go?
Despite the similarities of this book with some of Burchell’s other ones, she does do something different in addition to having the hero profess his love so early. She gives the heroine time and reason for doubts. What will Mary do with those doubts?
I rather like Mary’s mother who gives some good advice even though, as she says, people rarely want advice unless it agrees with what they want to do anyway. There’s also a charming bit about a London cabbie giving Mary some advice about high-flying, good looking chaps and not getting too chummy with them. But OMG – I love Gina Torelli. Dermot Deane is almost as good.
Gina Torelli takes Mary under her wing as Madame candidly discusses how to sing the Queen of the Night role – not like a canary in a temper! She’s also her caustic self in describing the world of opera and the inhabitants who carelessly call each other ‘darling’ – and sometimes actually mean it – and of the need to pull Suzanne out of Nicholas’s life by the roots – she’s like bindweed.
I just love that Torelli has such a casual attitude towards concussions. I wonder if the French doctors who saw Mary shared her belief that Mary – with broken ribs too – could safely be nursed in Torelli’s sumptuous Paris apartment.
The final hurdle to the HEA is a product of Burchell’s careful ground work. Both Mary and Nicholas have believable reasons for their actions and beliefs. Both can be excused for misinterpreting the situation especially given the short length of their relationship.
Still the HEA is achieved after very little effort on the part of Nick or Mary. Some “guardian angels” they know do all the heavy lifting and it seems close proximity was all that was required for them to swear eternal devotion. After the opera worthy anguished drama, it seemed a bit of a let down. Now if Nick had flown to Paris and flung himself down beside Mary’s sickbed, then he could have done some tenor moves like Rodolfo or Alfredo. That would have been fun to read. There’s a lot of sameness in this one, but then it’s book 7 so perhaps it’s all catching up with me. It’s mainly the secondary characters I’ve already praised who raise this to a B.